Can Landscape Design Truly Affect the Way Our Children Learn

Landscape fulfils two essential roles in children’s lives and education: as a place of play and a place to experience nature. In today’s society, both roles are diminishing or being challenged.

This raises two questions: why is this happening, and why is it a problem?


Jan Deans, director of University of Melbourne’s Early Learning Centre, says “we are grieving the loss of traditional forms of play that we used to consider a birthright – like making a cubby or mud pies in the garden. Play is compromised, because children’s lives are so controlled … as a by-product of the sophisticated world that we live in and the environment of test taking.” (The Sunday Age, October, 2010).

Technology is king. So much of play involves the use of screens - whether it be iPods, iPads, personal computers or games consoles. Children are not building or practising crucial social skills such as negotiation.

With changing societal values and a changing urban structure – larger houses and smaller gardens – other than the occasional family getaway, there is an absence of nature from most children’s lives today. When added to the rapidly urbanising population in Australia and loss of natural habitats and biodiversity due to urban growth, it creates a dire situation. We are losing the opportunity to be able to play in nature.

Children spend over 30 hours a week at school. But there is an increased obsession with safety and minimising risk and it is limiting playgrounds to gross motor activities and manufactured play equipment.

It is a problem because the benefits of play are well understood:

  • There are the obvious benefits in terms of physical health and fighting obesity
  • Children learn social and life skills through play
  • Quality play involves the whole child: gross motor, fine motor, senses, emotion, intellect, individual growth and social interaction
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March 7, 2012

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Your take on New Urbanism
Like most movements, New Urbanism developed out of a need for change. In this case it was a growing concern about the way our cities, in particular our sprawling suburbs, were developing. These concerns were valid 20 years ago when new urbanism got going, and unfortunately are still pretty valid and relevant today.

New urbanism was first known as 'Neo-traditional' planning. I think this remains its greatest criticism in that it tends to hark back to the good old days and instead of stopping at simply adopting good planning principles from that time, it sometimes goes too far and promotes neo-traditional architecture as well. As a movement, it then comes under fire because it is seen as being more about aesthetics rather than fundamental design principles.

The principles of New Urbanism certainly have a place in our suburban landscape. However it is imperative that as designers we ensure site responsive and contextually appropriate solutions. We should insist that development reflects a local vernacular and looks to the future, not just the past.

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  • Reply landscape supply landscape supply March 3, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Oh joyous day yes. This is the one reason I was born.
    To find you, my long lost knowledge seeking soul-mate.

  • Reply Landscaper Brisbane Landscaper Brisbane March 3, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Yeah, you are right I think landscape are the best for our children to learn some thing more.

  • Reply Berneche2 Architecture Berneche2 Architecture March 3, 2012 at 6:42 am

    Excellent article. Here in the States, probably there too, fear of lawsuits renders playground design to where the gate might as well bear a sign reading " sanitized for your/our protection.".

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